Politics / 05.12.2008

There is a huge wave of anger, frustration, and fear welling up in South Asia. Will this wave peter out only to arise again after the next incident of terrorism? Will it spiral out of control, plunging our region into further chaos and doing even more damage than terrorism alone could have achieved? Or will it be channeled into a force that would move us to a better and more secure future? To some extent the outcome will depend on what we, the citizens of South Asia, do or do not do today. Let me propose a two-step agenda: turning in and reaching out. In this post I will elaborate the first of the two steps. We have to begin by asking ourselves a simple question: Are we against terrorism or not? If we are, we have to be against terrorism wherever it exists, not just across the borders...

Politics / 29.11.2008

Making South Asia safe from the kind of terrorist attacks that have hurt Mumbai and Islamabad calls for an intelligent response from South Asian citizens. The first step is to understand the nature of terrorism. At a very broad level, we can identify two types of terrorism. The first is the terrorism practiced by relatively small, marginalized groups that wish to achieve some utopian vision of society. The classic exemplars of this type were the Red Brigade in Italy and the Baader-Meinhof group in Germany. Both emerged in the 1970s led by alienated students and professors radicalized by the brutalities of the Vietnam War and supported by the client states of the USSR in the context of the Cold War. The second type is the terrorism practiced by large groups that have lost hope in having their voices heard by the political process. At one point or...

Politics / 30.09.2008

It is often asserted that the majority of people in India and Pakistan desire peace. Do you believe that? Even if they don’t, some suggest that if only people knew how much it is costing to keep up the state of conflict they would become advocates for peace. Well, here is the information as calculated in 2004 by the Strategic Foresight Group, Mumbai, in their report Cost of Conflict between India and Pakistan. The summary of the report claims that “the Siachen conflict alone will cost India Rs 7,200 crores and Pakistan Rs 1,800 crores in the next five years;” that “India and Pakistan have the potential to enjoy a trade of about $1 billion if the hostile environment continues and $13.25 billion if peace prevails on a cumulative basis for the next five years (2004-08) resulting in an opportunity loss of $12 billion;” and that “Kashmir...

Politics / 27.09.2008

This is the quintessential ‘What If’ question. It is counterfactual because now we can never know what would have happened if India had not been partitioned. But we can speculate about the possibilities and try and construct plausible scenarios for purposes of understanding and discussion. In this post we argue against the scenario presented by Aakar Patel in his op-ed in The News on September 22, 2008. Aakar Patel’s one-line conclusion is that an unpartitioned India would have been a disaster for both Hindus and Muslims. Let us first list the points we aim to contend: Unpartitioned India would be the word’s largest country (1.4 billion people), the world’s largest Muslim country (500 million) and… the world’s poorest country (over 600 million hungry). In undivided India, religion would have dominated political debate, as it did in the 30s and 40s, and consensus on reform would be hard to build...

Governance, India, Politics / 26.07.2008

Let us put the big question on the table. Modern democracy as a form of governance has evolved following the emergence of the belief that “all men are created equal.”  How do we look at Indian democracy in this context? Do Indians believe today that all men are created equal? If not, how does it affect the nature of democracy in India? In the West it took social revolutions to force the acceptance that all men were created equal. So the sequence of events was the following: the emergence of a realization that all men should be equal; a social revolution overthrowing the hierarchical aristocratic order to force the recognition of that equality; the gradual emergence of representative governance (the franchise was extended very slowly with women becoming “equal” much later than men) as the form of governance most compatible with a society comprised of individuals equal...

Democracy/Governance, India, Modernity, Politics / 26.07.2008

Let us put the big question on the table. Modern democracy as a form of governance has evolved following the emergence of the belief that “all men are created equal.”  How do we look at Indian democracy in this context? Do Indians believe today that all men are created equal? If not, how does it affect the nature of democracy in India? In the West it took social revolutions to force the acceptance that all men were created equal. So the sequence of events was the following: the emergence of a realization that all men should be equal; a social revolution overthrowing the hierarchical aristocratic order to force the recognition of that equality; the gradual emergence of representative governance (the franchise was extended very slowly with women becoming “equal” much later than men) as the form of governance most compatible with a society comprised of individuals equal...

Leadership, Politics / 24.07.2008

Ardeshir Cowasjee is the doyen of Pakistani opinion-makers having been around forever as the leading light of Dawn. For many years now, with great regularity, Mr. Cowasjee has been making a seemingly provocative statement on behalf of Mr. Jinnah. For some reason, this statement has sparked no discussion whatsoever. Here is one version of the statement as expressed in his column of May 25, 2008: “That man of great perception (there were no others to follow him) our founder and maker, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, once prophesied shortly after the making of his country, realising the calibre of men and women around and about him, that each successive government of Pakistan would be worse than its preceding one. This prediction, made 60 years ago, has been eerily correct, and continues to be so.” Every time I have read this statement I have been plagued with doubts. Does Mr. Cowasjee...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics / 20.07.2008

The BBC is doing a fine job in India reporting events that compel readers to think about the broader implications of the story. We had earlier picked up a story about the threat by purists to mixed religious communities. The post (Hindu-Muslim or Muslim-Hindu?) has become quite popular on the blog suggesting that readers enjoy being engaged by challenging questions. Now the BBC has reported on the goings-on preceding the July 22 vote of confidence in the Indian parliament. This too raises some interesting questions about the nature of democracy in India. The story itself states very clearly: “When India is described as 'the world's biggest democracy' it remains strictly true.” A story like this in Pakistan would most likely have found the reporter on the first plane out of the country. So there is no doubt that in relative terms governance in India has a much better...

Education, Fundamentalism, Ghalib, Politics, Religion / 19.07.2008

Today if you tell me some things are fated I would be inclined to believe you. The last three posts just sort of happened – there was no grand design involved, just the order in which we happened to chance upon things. There was a BBC story on syncretic communities under threat and that led to Hindu-Muslim or Muslim-Hindu? Then there was a column on the usefulness of Milton by Stanley Fish that led to Milton and Ghalib. And finally, an essay by Mark Lilla that a reader had sent last year popped out of a randomly opened file and led to The Politics of God. In retrospect, you can see the threads that link. The threat to syncretic communities could be attributed to the politics of God (as some readers have already done in their comments) and one could use Milton or Ghalib to think about...

Fundamentalism, Modernity, Politics, Religion, South Asia / 18.07.2008

Our two posts on fundamentalism (1, 2) have only scratched the surface of this phenomenon and revealed many more interesting questions to explore. A useful place to pick up the exploration is a recent article by Mark Lilla, a professor of the humanities at Columbia University, called The Politics of God. Professor Lilla’s point of departure is his sense of amazement that after two centuries when world politics revolved around “eminently political problems,” we seem to be back in the 16th century “entangled in conflicts over competing revelations, dogmatic purity and divine duty.” What happened? Like a good teacher, Professor Lilla has posed an interesting and also a very critical question. Readers can go to Professor Lilla’s article to see how he answers the question with reference to Hobbes and Rousseau. Here we extract some material to rephrase the proposition in our own context and to pose...